Finished in 1930, The Long Trail is the oldest long distance hiking trail in the United States and shares a National Scenic Trail designation along with longer trails such as the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. The trail is 272 miles in length running the length of Vermont from the Vermont-Massachusetts border to the Vermont-Canada Border. Remote, muddy, and mountainous, it is considered far more difficult and rugged to hike than the Appalachian Trail.
I volunteer as a Long Trail Mentor for the Green Mountain Club which maintains Vermont’s Long Trail. I section hiked the Long Trail or LT in 2008, and have been giving free advice to people ever since because it was such a transformative personal experience for me.
I’ve been having a lot of email correspondence this month with hikers interested in hiking The Long Trail next year and I thought I’d summarize what I’m telling them. If you’re planning a hike, fire away with questions in the comment box below. I’m happy to help you plan or give advice about what to expect.
The best time to hike The Long Trail is between June and mid-October.
The Green Mountain Club requests that hikers stay off the trail until Memorial Day at the end of May because snowmelt makes the trail very muddy and hiking causes too much erosion.
While there are black flies in June, you can still hike the trail then although it’s probably best to cover up with long pants and a long sleeve short and to bring a bug net. After mid-October, the weather starts to turn cold in Vermont. If you want to enjoy Autumn on the trail, September is probably the best time to go
The Long Trail is a difficult trail to hike because it’s very rocky, muddy and there are a lot of mountains on the route. The easiest part is the southern 100 miles, which coincides with the Appalachian Trail. After that the trail gets much more mountainous and remote.
How to Prepare
If you don’t have previous experience backpacking and camping, you don’t want to start acquiring it on the Long Trail. Make sure you go on a few multi-day backpacking trips and develop expertise using all of your gear, including your tent, stove, and rain gear, in good and bad weather. It rains a lot on the Long Trail and you need to be familiar with how to stay warm when wet and how to take care of your feet when they are wet for days at a time.
Next, hiking up and down mountains all day is hard work if you are wearing a backpack and some advance training is helpful. In total there are 53 named mountains on the Long Trail, including 27 that are 3,500 feet or higher. When you train, try to go on hikes up similarly sized mountains wearing a pack. Climbing stairs and working out in a gym are sub-optimal – you can only train to hike, by hiking.
On average, it takes hikers 19 days to complete the Long Trail if they hike it end-to-end in a single trip. If you do the math, that means they’re averaging slightly more than 14 miles a day. Do you know if you can hike 14 miles a day? You don’t have to hike at this pace of course, but you will want to be able to hike 10 miles a day. That can be a shock if you don’t prepare for it.
There’s little public transportation along the Long Trail and shuttles drivers come and go every year. Your best bet is to call the Green Mountain Club which maintains the trail and ask them if they can recommend a driver for you (I am out of date). Alternatively, you can rely on friends or hike with someone else so you have at least two cars, so you can drop a car along your route.
The Long Trail is white blazed like The Appalachian Trail and is easy to follow except when it crosses the tops of peaks that have been turned into ski areas. Be patient. You’ll eventually find the continuation of the trail on the other side of a ski slope, but you might have to look for a while to find it.
Guidebooks and Maps
You should bring a map when you hike The Long Trail, so you can see where the shelters are, or roads so you can hitch to town to resupply. The best map of the Long Trail is published by Wilderness Press on behalf of the Green Mountain Club. It has elevation profiles, segment distances, and detailed notes about the route, plus it’s waterproof. I wouldn’t bother buying any of the Green Mountain Club Long Trail Guidebooks and I certainly would bother carrying them. The map has all of the information you need. I bought all of the Green Mountain Guidebooks and they’re really targeted at day hikers, not end-to-enders.
There are two types of Shelters on the Long Trail – Appalachian Trail style lean-tos that have one open side and fairly luxurious cabins which four walls and a door. There are lean-tos on the southern 100 miles of the Long Trail that overlap with the Appalachian Trail, but that changes after the Appalachian Trail forks off and heads east to New Hampshire. As you head north on the Long Trail, the shelters get much nicer and more comfortable. They also become far less crowded and depending on when you hike, you might have one all to yourself.
If you’re planning on using a tent instead of sleeping in the shelters, you’ll probably reconsider this decision after you wake up in a puddle or end up getting your inner tent soaked by trying to pitch it in pouring rain. You have never seen so much rain in your life. The shelters are dry, you can hang your wet clothes up at night, and it can be really nice to talk to someone over dinner if you’ve been hiking in the rain all day.
After hiking the Long Trail, rain won’t bother you anymore.
It’s really easy to find water on the Long Trail. Just look down. Bring a filter or Aquamira water purification drops. Vermont has a huge beaver population and you need to treat water from natural water sources.
I think planning your resupply points is the hardest part of hiking the Long Trail because you need to get rides to town and back. If you try to hitchhike, do it on a “big” road with lots of traffic. You can also send food to inns near the trail and have them hold it for you. Some areas have public transportation which stops at Trail heads so that is an option, and begging rides from others hikers from trail heads to town is also a viable strategy. Remember, you don’t need to plan that many resupply points if you can hike 15 miles a day and are willing to carry 5-7 days of food at a time.
No cotton. Bring rain gear, rain pants, and a billed cap. Don’t bring a lot of extra clothing because it’s just going wet and heavy.
Don’t wear leather boots because they will never dry. It’s not a question of waterproofing. You will have water coming into your boots over the ankles almost every day of your hike. I recommend you consider a soft shoe like a trail runner that won’t cause blisters when it gets wet.
Wear long pants and a long shirt so you don’t have to cover yourself in DEET or worry as much about Lyme disease.
Bring the minimum necessary.
Keep it light, so you can carry more food and move fast.
Bring bug netting, even if you sleep in closed shelters.
I wouldn’t recommend a wood stove. Too wet.
Bring the lightest shelter possible, in case you don’t make it to a trail shelter for the night or you decide to stop and camp in the middle of nowhere. You will kick yourself if you insist on carrying a 4-5 pound tent and only use it a half-dozen times your entire trip.
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